Editorial Feature

A Virtual Literary Tour of The Brontë Sisters

Discover the places that inspired the work of the three sisters 

The Brontës were a 19th century family born in the village of Thornton and full of literary talent; the sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne have become established names in literature with their novels and poetry. All three of the women originally published their work under male pseudonyms, like many female writers at the time, yet now their novels are considered classics in their own right.

The sisters, along with their brother Branwell, were close and during childhood they told each other stories set in an elaborate imaginary world, which were then written down and turned into collaborative works between the siblings. The experiences of the girls, especially the early death of their mother and their two older sisters, had a huge impact on the writing of Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

To understand the sisters and their work in more detail, here we take a literary tour of the some of the places the Brontë sisters both frequented and were inspired by.

Market Street, Thornton, Yorkshire,

This house situated on Market Street in the village of Thornton in West Yorkshire, is the Brontë birthplace and where the sisters lived until they moved to Haworth in 1820. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were born in 1816, 1818 and 1820 respectively.

The Brontë birthplace has undergone several changes of use since the sisters lived there, including a period as a butcher’s shop and a restaurant, as well as museum until 2007. It is now undergoing changes to become a bistro and coffee shop. A black and white plaque still remains on the property however to denote its previous inhabitants.

Haworth Parsonage, Haworth, Yorkshire

After Thornton, Haworth Parsonage became the family home for the rest of their lives. The family moved here in 1820, after Patrick Brontë was appointed incumbent of St Michael and All Angels' Church in the village.

The moorland setting and Patrick’s own background of writing had a profound impact on the writings of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. While nowadays it looks like a quaint and happy village, Haworth used to be a crowded industrial town, full of pollution and very unhygienic. The average age of death was just 24, which was just as high as the rates in London or nearby Bradford. The house is now a museum dedicated to the legacy of the sisters and is run by The Brontë Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the world, founded in 1893.

Brontë Waterfall, Stanbury, Yorkshire

The Brontë Waterfall is a small waterfall located about a mile southwest of Stanbury, near Haworth. It’s said Charlotte, Emily and Anne often walked across this land for inspiration, so much so there’s now a Brontë Trail which takes walkers from Haworth, all the way to the falls.

The walk continues on to Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse said to be the inspiration for Emily's only novel Wuthering Heights, published in 1847 originally under the name Ellis Bell.

Ponden Hall, Stanbury, West Yorkshire

Ponden Hall is a farmhouse in Stanbury that supposedly inspired both Anne and Emily. For Anne, Ponden Hall was the original Wildfell Hall, the old mansion featured through the author's novel The Tenant of Wildefell Hall. In the book Helen Graham, the protagonist, flees from her husband and seeks salvation at Wildfell. Details of Wildfell are echoed in Ponden, including the latticed windows and a central portico.

For Emily, the hall is also said to be the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, the home of the Linton family (Edgar, Isabella and Cathy) in the novel Wuthering Heights. Although, this still seems up for debate as many say it doesn’t really match the description given in the novel, and is closer in size and appearance to the farmhouse of Wuthering Heights itself.

Cowan Bridge School, Kirkby Lonsdale

Cowan Bridge School refers to the Clergy Daughters' School, a school mainly for the daughters of middle class clergy founded in the 1820s. It was first located in the village of Cowan Bridge in Lancashire, where it was attended by the Brontë sisters.

Conditions at the school were dire and Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis in the aftermath of a typhoid outbreak at the school. The girls endured regular punishments, including privation of food and recreation, corporal punishment, and humiliations such as being made to sit on a stool for hours on end without moving and wearing a dunce's cap. These terrible experiences led Charlotte to channel them into her novel Jane Eyre, in which Lowood School (where Jane attends as a child) is said to be based on the Cowan Bridge School.

Brimham Rocks, Summerbridge, Yorkshire

In the 1970 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall, it used Brimham Rocks to represent Penistone Crags. This is the meeting place of Cathy and Heathcliffe and it's here where the characters are free to be themselves.

In the film, Brimham Rocks provides the wild landscape needed to visualize this sense of freedom. Today it’s looked after by the National Trust and is made up of a series of giant rock formations created by an immense river 100 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the earth.

Haddon Hall, Bakewell, Derbyshire

In Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall is the home of the male romantic lead Edward Fairfax Rochester, and it's where much of the action takes place. It's been suggested that the author based Thornfield on Haddon Hall near Bakewell, Derbyshire, although there’s no real evidence to suggest this.

This idea is likely to have stemmed from the fact that many filmmakers have used the hall as Thornfield for on-screen adaptations of the novel. Both the BBC’s 2006 mini series and the 2011 feature film starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender used Haddon Hall for it's gothic architecture and lush green gardens.

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